Restaurant Workers Learn Deescalation Strategies to Handle Angry Customers

Adella Miesner

Jon Schott is just about at his breaking point. He’s been working six days a week at three bars and restaurants in Alexandria ever since they were permitted to reopen. While he can stomach the scramble that comes with being short-staffed at The People’s Drug, King’s Ransom, and The Handover, […]


Jon Schott is just about at his breaking point. He’s been working six days a week at three bars and restaurants in Alexandria ever since they were permitted to reopen. While he can stomach the scramble that comes with being short-staffed at The People’s Drug, King’s Ransom, and The Handover, the bartender and part-owner is frustrated that customer behavior seems to be worsening. “People coming into the restaurants now, even for to-go food, are a whole different animal,” he says. “They’re over the protocols.”

The government-mandated mask policy continues to be the top safety precaution customers and businesses clash over. The conflict can feel dehumanizing at times, according to Schott. “It feels like they don’t see us people or as equals,” he says. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told someone clearly that they have to wear a mask to go to the restroom and they’ll say ‘There’s nobody in the restaurant.’ I’m literally standing right here.” 

But perhaps the most frustrating encounter Schott had was at The People’s Drug on a Saturday night a few weeks ago, when a table allegedly fought back against the restaurant’s policy that groups can only dine for an hour and a half before they have to give up their table for the next patrons. “If you like the restaurant, these are the things we need to do to survive so you can come back and do this again sometime,” he explains. “The extra 30 minutes of sitting and looking at your phones is not helpful.” 

Tension built up over the whole time period the group was at the table, according to Schott, who describes their behavior as rude and condescending. He had to tell them they couldn’t order off-menu cocktails or smoke on the patio. “They’d put their palm up when they talked to us,” he says. But when restaurant staff told them it was last call just before their hour and a half was up, conditions escalated. As Schott tells it, the group thought the clock should have reset when new people joined their party mid meal.

“I asked them to leave one more time,” Schott says. “One guy comes in and tells us, ‘This is bad business, you’re doing this wrong.’” He wasn’t wearing a mask during this confrontation, according to Schott, who also says one person in the party claimed to work for the Centers for Disease Control. “She said she would get the restaurant shut down. At this point, they’re cursing and throwing names around.” 

They finally left and a fresh set of diners took over the table. “When people come in I’m on guard,” Schott says. “I notice I’m sore when I’m off the clock. I’m sore because I’m tense the whole time I’m at work.” 

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